In the new graphic novel Ichiro, when the title character travels to Japan with his mother, he has mixed feelings about staying with his grandfather in a country he's never known before.
A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum brings Ichiro’s feelings of confusion and displacement into even sharper relief. When he accidentally slips into another world and meets the legendary creatures of Japan's folk history, he learns more about himself and the real world than he ever considered.
Find more books for teens in which East meets West.
Here Ryan Inzana talks about the importance of history in our lives and what folk tales can teach us.
When Ichiro visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum he comes away feeling shame and guilt—why is this important for young readers to learn about?
One of reasons I decided to write the book was because of my reaction after going to the Peace Memorial Museum. You have a pretty good chronicle of what happened in Japan from the perspective of the Japanese. Even if you are familiar with the history, seeing all the relics and artifacts from the bombing and being able to see and read the stories—it gives you a new light on the country you live in, the world you live in. You can see something like that and really question war in general and what is right.
In comic books, everything is geared toward a good guy and a bad guy, there's definitive good and evil. But if you look at the bombing of Hiroshima, it's a very gray area. I think a lot of war falls into that gray area. There's not simply good guys and bad guys, there's people and there are decisions made for various reasons. You get a better view and really draw your own conclusions from a broader perspective.
Do you consider yourself more a writer or an illustrator?
Well, I've studied as an illustrator, but I've really enjoyed doing both. Writing is the hardest part, because you're hashing out everything, but I try to do preliminary sketches hand in hand as I write so I'm not just focused on the writing. I try to bring it up as one piece.
Another graphic artist, with a separate writer, has to gauge the writer's mindset. When you're the same person, you know all the little details and you can decide whether you want to see something with text or just visually, which I think is the greatest asset of the writer/artist combination. A lot of things in graphic novels are best left unsaid, and if you're the one coming up with the whole idea you have a definite advantage.
Why did you incorporate myths and folk tales into the story of Ichiro?
When I started doing the research about [World War II] and Japan's involvement and coming up with the idea of the story, I thought if you don't understand the myth and historical background of the emperor story—especially a Western audience that might not be familiar with it—they may think, “I don't understand how someone could think the emperor was god, why would a fighter pilot risk his life?” I don't think you can ignore that element. And I thought weaving it in would make the story stronger and would bridge that gap between Western and Eastern stories. And it was fun to draw mythological monsters and learn about the folk tales.
The end of the book isn't very hopeful. Does this match your outlook on the world?
I think it's really dependent on people's actions, especially young people who are deciphering the world for themselves. I'm not a young kid myself. I feel like I've had my say, but the future leaders of this world will have to make their own decisions. I think that young people acknowledge history better than when I was young.
I remember being in college, and nobody in my class could identify the politicos I was illustrating, and they had no idea about the presidential race. In just 12 short years, younger generations have become much more involved in politics and have a greater understanding of the world and of history in general, and I think that's great. I'm pessimistically optimistic.
Andi Diehn lives in a house full of books in Enfield, NH. She shares a blog at www.letusgothen.net.